Don’t Let Your Beer Go Bad, But If It Does…..Here’s What You Can Do

Don’t Let Your Beer Go Bad, But If It Does…..Here’s What You Can Do

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

Let’s get this out of the way first thing – don’t let your beer go stale. Beer is meant to be drunk fresh, and with few exceptions, it’s almost always better when new. Yes, there are exceptions like English barleywines or a Thomas Hardy Ale, a few stouts that get better with age, and my personal favorite, a nice 3-5 year old Orval. Bottle conditioned beers like Orval are better targets for some aging, as they are still alive and changing, but for most beers – especially most hoppy beers – younger is better.

Beer undergoes many chemical reactions as it ages, most them affecting flavors and aromas negatively. Oxygen, light, and lipids are all enemies of beer over time. Hops are especially vulnerable to the ravages of time and chemistry, and this is why IPAs of all types should be consumed fresh. The tendency to dry hop other styles of beers – wheats, saisons, and even pilsners these days, means that it may not just be IPAs that should be consumed nearer their packaging dates.

But life happens, and sometimes we end up with old beer in the fridge, or we get a gift from a friend who isn’t aware of the perils of old beer. They just know you like beer and they wanted to do something nice for you. Sometimes a package store will leave old beer on the shelves and you may get a bad four pack because you either forgot to check the date, or the producer hid, coded, or didn’t provide the date. You try one and realize the error of your ways – so what do you do with the remaining cans or bottles?

If you drain pour a Pliny the Elder, it better be a decade old or else you’re just trying to impress someone. image credit: Youtube

Luckily, people have looked into this and there are lists of things that can be done with beer that has gone bad, from cooking to cleaning to personal hygiene. I took a few minutes and scoured Google to come up with a few do’s and don’t of what to do when beer goes bad. The don’t list is shorter and more important for the outcomes so let’s look at them first.

Don’t cook with skunked beer – when light interacts with hop compounds in beer, sulfur compounds are produced, including 3-methyl-2-butene-1-thiol, or MBT. This chemical is very similar to many of the foul smelling products from the back end of a skunk, and thus lightstruck beer is often said to be skunked. Cooking removes water, thereby concentrating flavors and aromas. True, cooking with skunked beer will volatilize some of the compounds and get rid of them, but who wants a kitchen that smells like skunk when you’re cooking? And skunked beer tastes bad as well as smells bad, so why add bad flavor to a dish.

Don’t trade bad beer away – besides being just a mean thing to do, it cuts down on your options for future trades. People who are into trading beer have long memories and they talk to one another. If you think you can get something for nothing by sending away a beer you know or suspect is bad in order to get something you’ve been wanting, it’s going to catch up and bite you in the butt eventually.

Likewise, don’t take stale or otherwise bad beer to a bottle share or give it away as a gift. We craft drinkers are looking to grow our community, so why would you do something that would have the possible affect of turning someone off to craft beer. In general – just don’t be that person.

Don’t drink it – life’s too short to drink bad beer. If you are intent upon punishing yourself or you just can’t stand to let a spent dollar go to waste, then go ahead, but don’t blame me when you die just a little bit inside. Even more important, look below at what you can do with off beer – there are ways to reduce your financial loss and gain a bit of functionality.

Pillows filled with hops help you sleep, but washing your pillow in beer can do the same thing. image credit: Parsley Post

Now that those are out of the way, here’s a rather extensive list of things I’ve found that people do with beer that has gone off. I vouch for none of them – I don’t let beer go bad.

Wash your pj’s, pillows, and sheets in it – this is particularly dependent on the hops in the beer, so beer that isn’t too old but has gone flat or has some other off flavor but still has the hop character is best for this. People for decades have acclaimed hop aroma as a sleep aid, so by washing your bedding and pj’s in beer, you’re increasing your chance for a good night’s sleep – or perhaps you’ll just crave a beer and get up to raid the fridge.

Use it in your hair – starting in the 1980s, beer was added to some commerical shampoos to improve hair quality and look. Today, many hair products use beer, some saying craft beer specifically, to make you look gorgeous. B vitamins make hair stronger and less likely to break or fray. Barley proteins add volume to hair and add shine and can ward off dandruff. Soaking your hair in beer and then sitting out in the sun is supposed to bring out highlights – but I would suggest it might make you smell like a skunk too.

Remove stains – it might be said that one of the lasting effects of a craft beer party is the stains from spilled beers. However, beer is supposedly a good stain remover in carpets. From blood to wine to tomato sauce, using a light colored beer with some club soda bring stains out. Of course, most of the places that suggest using beer also follow it up by saying to use a steam cleaner to get rid of the beer and beer odor, so one wonders if you’re not just trading one stain for another.

A beer bath can help you skin. But if you this much old beer, you have bigger problems. image credit: David Nielsen / The Queensland Times

Improve your skin tone – a beer bath is supposed to be amazing, but you’re going to need a lot of stale beer. The hops in beer are an astringent to dry out the oils and tighten pores while the yeast is supposed to balance skin pH and soften the skin. The yeast is also said to slow sebum production and the acid and combination of ingredients will kill or slow the grow of acne-causing bacteria.

Get rid of slugs and snails –This is one of the tricks I have actually used, with a fair amount of success. If you bury a jar lid to it’s lip and fill it with a bit of beer, slugs and snails in your garden will be attracted to the sugars, drop in for a drink and then not be able to leave – not unlike me and most taprooms. As an added benefit, if you place a bit of beer in bowls around the edges of your garden party, the flies and other flying pests will be attracted to sugar and will leave you alone. I guess this assumes that won’t be serving any beer at the party.

Green up your lawn – brown spots in your yard could be from bugs, from a lack of minerals and nutrients in the soil, or perhaps you just have a brown thumb. Old beer still has lots of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and nutrients, and the acids can kill parasites and bugs. The water in the beer can hurt the grass either. In addition, the acid in beer can neutralize the ammonia in pet urine, so the effects fido on your lawn can be minimized if you follow him around with an old beer.

I can attest that beer can chicken is good – wash the can first, please. image credit: Epicurious

Use it as a cleaner/polisher – old wood can be brought back to life, copper or brass can be brightened by getting rid of tarnish, remove rust or unlocked screws or bolts, and clean faucets and other fixtures. In some cases, it’s the carbonation that does the trick, in other cases (like using it as wood polish) it’s much better to use it flat.

Use it in recipes – given the caveat above about skunked beer, stale beer is surprisingly good for making food more flavorful. The common rule for wine is don’t cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink on its own, but that doesn’t really apply for beer. Old, stale beers do just fine in breads, chili, beer can chicken, for tenderizing meat before grilling, or for a beer batter for fish or seafood. I’m sure there are other uses in food as well.

Learn from the experience – Allowing beer to go bad or making the mistake of buying or trading for stale/old/off beer isn’t one of the major problems of the world. But that doesn’t mean you have repeat the mistakes again and again. If you have too much beer, give it away or trade it. Don’t sit on it until it turns south unless your looking to try out one of the tricks above, and given the price of decent beer, it’s going to be an awful expensive polish or hair treatment.


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